Arts & Culture

Thanksgiving with Luke Pyenson

This might be more information than I should share in an Observer article, but my mother went into labor with me in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner on November 22, 1990. And sometime between four and five in the morning (nobody knows) on November 23, I came careening out into the world on a wave of fresh cranberry sauce.

There may have been a little revisionist history in that last sentence, but take my word for it: there is a definite relationship between who I am today and when I was born. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Hell, Thanksgiving is my favorite day. And this year, I’m turning 21 the day before, so I need to do everything in my power not to be too hungover during dinner.  Thanksgiving dinner is very important to me.

So, I’m this big “foodie,” right, and my Thanksgiving is probably really fancy, right? Not really. My Thanksgiving is probably like a lot of people’s Thanksgivings; the food is simple, all-American (mostly), and abundant. I’m gonna go dish by dish through some of my favorite things on the annual Thanksgiving table—maybe these will get you pumped for your own Thanksgivings, or maybe they’ll give you ideas. Note that turkey is not included, but I do eat turkey.


My Thanksgiving experience always begins the day before, when I smell my mom baking the date-nut bread (it tastes best the day after). Inside, it’s a delicate balance of sweet, sticky dates, and crunchy walnuts. The bread can stand alone but is a great accompaniment to the Thanksgiving spread. Some people, I believe, schmear cream cheese on it, but that’s not at all my style. I’m gonna include the recipe for this, which is my great-grandmother’s (!).

This is my dad’s department, but my grandmother also usually makes one, and the past few years I’ve done a more “out-there” third version (once with hibiscus and once with lapsang souchong
tea). My dad and grandmother stick to the traditional flavorings, namely orange juice and rind, a little sugar, and water. Cranberry sauce is incredibly easy to make, and especially in New England, where
cranberries are a “local/seasonal” product, there’s never a reason to buy it in a can. Last year abroad in Morocco, I improvised with pomegranates, which were the closest local/seasonal produce to cranberries, and it turned out great. If you should come across a suitable few pomegranates this year, try it out.

My mom once saw this in an issue of Gourmet (RIP)  a long time ago I believe, and ever since then she has been making it on Thanksgiving as per my request. Before moving into an off-campus house last year, I only ate leeks once a year, in the mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving (I buy a “weekly leek” these days). My mom also makes a version without leeks for normal people.


This, I suppose, is a little unconventional, but it’s very, very New England-y. My family also has pecan pie (with Guinness) and pumpkin pie (with Bourbon), but this is a good counterpoint—it’s not a bulging pie smothered in whipped cream… It’s a thin, dainty tart, and it’s absolutely perfect. The cranberries are fresh and have a little bite to them, the walnuts get all toasty and sweet when baked… This is my vice the day after. I open the fridge, lift up the saran wrap, and, like, game over.

Have a great Thanksgiving y’all!

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